Wednesday, April 19, 2017



From a market behemoth, Kodak filed for bankruptcy on January 19,2012.[1] It was a very painful journey from great to gone for Kodak and its employees. The vison of Kodak’s co-founder George Eastman was that “one day the camera would be small enough so everyone would carry one in a shirt pocket.”[2] With such as vision, they knew where to head to but the irony is that they weren’t the ones to reach there first. In fact, they never reached there at all!

Clayton Christensen rightly remarks, “Well-run companies are rarely run over by direct competitors. They anticipate frontal assaults and repel them.”[3] He goes on further to say that the most successful attacks come out of the weeds. Most of the big companies get blinded by an upstart technology firm. With digital revolution gaining steam, Kodak was sure that their camera and film business were under siege. However, Kodak wasn’t blinded. They expected this change and reacted to it. People didn’t consider cellular phones to be a replacement of cameras until they were.

Kodak was always on the forefront of innovation- be it the digital photography or the photo sharing. Yet, Kodak failed to survive. Kodak not only failed to capitalize on their innovations, but also on their consumer’s need and expectation. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Kodak misunderstood the social market of photo sharing.  Let us discuss the three most important reasons why Kodak failed:

1) Digital Cameras  

Kodak is credited with the invention of digital photography.[4]  In 1975, Steve Sasson- a Kodak engineer created the first digital camera with 0.01 MP.[5] Kodak improvised on this and worked extensively in the digital domain acquiring many patents.
These patented technologies are instrumental in the todays’ digital cameras. Kodak failed to make use of this breakthrough innovation. However, for the second time in 1995, Kodak brought their first commercial digital camera- DC40- into market.[6] Kodak’s extensive film business made it harder for them to change to digital cameras. However, other players flooded into digital photography market which made it very difficult for Kodak to recover. There were very little incentives for Kodak to consider digital photography market as they had made huge investments in film and printing. [7]

2) Photo Sharing    

In 2005, Kodak launched world's first Wi-Fi enabled camera in 2005, the EasyShare-One.[8] A special card in the camera would allow it to connect to a nearby Wi-Fi network. This would enable photo sharing via Wi-Fi directly from the camera. Kodak’s bad marketing led to less sales and ultimately, the company had to stop the product. Kodak jumped early into the market of photo sharing when people weren’t yet ready. With innovations, mobile phones had the capacity to capture high resolution pictures and share them instantly. This proved to be a death blow to Kodak’s photo sharing idea. Today photo-sharing is just a click away and has become an integral part of life.[9]
3) Photo Printing

The photo printing industry has made huge progress and transformed itself enormously over the past two decades. Apart from the professional photographers, everyone would get their photos printed. However, with technological improvements, people prefer to keep their photos in digital format and print only those that are necessary. Kodak failed to understand this and invested heavily in photo printers and picture frames while people were using cell phones to capture and share images. Their idea of home printers failed miserably as neither did the people want to print their pictures anymore, nor was the ink for cheap printers affordable. [10]

Lessons learned 

The most important takeaways for me were:

·       It is fine to make progress at the cost of your own business. For instance, Sony left a void in the digital Walkman market which was filled by Apple’s iPod. At present, iPad maybe killing the Mac, but the bottom-line is that Apple is making profit if either sells. [11]

·       Have trust in your own products and hang in. Kodak killed the wi-fi cameras just because they didn’t sell. Christensen believes that “Technology that isn't good enough for prime time, technology that the best customers wouldn't use on their worst days, becomes, over time, better and better.”[12] Had they persisted a bit longer and made people realise the potential of their product, they may have been successful.

·       Be aggressive and take chances. Kodak played it safe. They weren’t aggressive enough, Kodak tried to just survive rather than innovate and use the innovations efficiently.

[1] Merced, Michael J. De La. "Eastman Kodak Files for Bankruptcy." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
[2] "Cultural Icon." Heritage | Kodak. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
[3] Christensen, Clayton M. "The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail." The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail - Book - Harvard Business School. N.p., 01 June 1997. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
[4] Estrin, James. "Kodak's First Digital Moment." The New York Times. The New York Times, 12 Aug. 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
[5] "The World's First Digital Camera by Kodak and Steve Sasson." PetaPixel. N.p., 05 Aug. 2010. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
[6] "Digital Cameras." Pinterest. N.p., 06 Nov. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
[7] Mui, Chunka. "How Kodak Failed." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 20 June 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
[8] "Kodak EasyShare One." N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
[9] Anthony, Scott. "Kodak's Downfall Wasn't About Technology." Harvard Business Review. N.p., 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
[10] Petronzio, Matt. "Kodak Image Sharing and Storage Is Dead: 5 Alternatives." Mashable. Mashable, 27 May 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
[11] Titcomb, James. "The IPad Was Supposed to Kill the PC. What Happened?" The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 20 Mar. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
[12] "The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail." Clayton Christensen. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

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